Thursday, July 15, 1999

Groups seek kids
with no insurance

A campaign tries to enroll
children eligible for health
care assistance

Medical benefits for some will be expanded

By Helen Altonn


State and community agencies are hunting for thousands of Hawaii children with no medical insurance.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation awarded nearly $1 million to the Hawaii State Primary Care Association to find uninsured children eligible for state Medicaid and QUEST health care programs.

The foundation is investing $47 million in a campaign called "Covering Kids: A National Health Access Initiative for Low-Income, Uninsured Children."

The state Health Department's 1998 Hawaii Health Survey estimates 4,458 uninsured children may be eligible for Medicaid/QUEST.

However, the Primary Care Association cites 13,000 as the potential number of eligible uninsured children.

That was the estimate of the 1996 Hawaii Health Survey, said Beth Giesting, executive director of the private, nonprofit association.

"We find it extremely unlikely that there are fewer than half as many uninsured kids as there were two years ago," particularly with the depressed economy, she said.

Giesting noted the survey is done by telephone -- "the last way to find people who don't speak English and are too poor to have telephones."

Families with income below 100 percent of the poverty line are eligible for the state's health insurance programs.

A three-member family with about $13,000 a year income would qualify.

More needs to be done to find and enroll qualified children for state health benefits, said Charles Duarte, Med-QUEST Division director in the state Human Services Department.

"But we still have the lowest uninsured rate in the nation for low-income and working families," he said."

Duarte said his division is doing what it can to work with the Primary Care Association to reach out to kids.

But the "Covering Kids" project will require some changes in the Med-QUEST program and more state funds and staff time, he said. "Those are in short supply right now."

Barbara Luksch, Covering Kids Project director, said the big question is how to find uninsured kids eligible for Medicaid-QUEST.

Pilot projects are planned in Kalihi-Palama on Oahu and on the Big Island with outreach workers going to community groups and schools to try to enroll more children, she said. A roving pool of eligibility workers based at health centers in Kalihi-Palama will try to link QUEST enrollment with related benefits, she said.

Medical benefits for some
children will be expanded

By Helen Altonn


Children of low-income island families who don't qualify for Medicaid or QUEST health benefits may get help under a new federal program.

Families with income up to 200 percent of the poverty level will be eligible for the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP). (The poverty line for Medicaid-QUEST benefits is 100 percent).

The Hawaii Health Survey conducted by the Health Department estimates 5,304 children may be eligible for the new program.

"It is simply an expansion of eligibility for Medicaid children based on poverty levels," said state Human Services Director Susan Chandler.

A three-member family with an annual income of $26,000 could qualify for the CHIP program, in contrast to a $13,000 income to be eligible for Med-QUEST, she said.

Her department is preparing to participate in the new federal program pending state funding, to come from Hawaii's share of the tobacco settlement. The money is expected next July, Chandler said. She said staffing and systems changes and improvements must be made to get ready for the program. "But we're very committed to it. It's a 65 percent federally funded program. So it's a good investment for us."

Charles Duarte, Med-QUEST Division director, said about $1.7 million will be needed in state funding, which will draw $3.3 million in federal funds.

He said it isn't clear why so many children aren't insured but it's believed many low-income working families with access to health insurance can't afford the premiums. Some people also may have part-time jobs that don't provide health insurance, he said.

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